The Oberlin 2008 production Death Of A Salesman began more than two years ago, but its roots go back to Calvin C. Hernton (1932-2001). A professor of African American Studies at Oberlin for 27 years, he served as a mentor to both Brooks and the younger Emeka.

The relationship between the 1970 graduate and Hernton, a playwright as well as a poet, novelist, and essayist, evolved into a lifelong collaboration that often brought them together to work on such projects as Brooks' ABC series A Man Called Hawk. It's little wonder that in 1996 Hernton took the opportunity to introduce the two alumni during the reunion weekend, and that they became close friends.

Since then, Brooks has become a mentor to Emeka and a professional colleague. In 2004, Brooks played the title role in King Lear at the Yale Repertory Theatre and provided the vision for the production, which was set in America 3000 years before Columbus arrived. Joining him in the cast was Emeka, who played the role of Edgar and also served as movement coordinator using African-based Capoeira to create a unique physical vocabulary for the production. It was during the play's run and discussions with Brooks that Emeka began to develop his idea of framing Willy Loman's story through the struggles of a Black family in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic New York during the 40's and 50's.

Two years later, Emeka joined the Oberlin faculty. By this time his ideas about Death Of A Salesman had coalesced, and he shared them with Oberlin President Marvin Krislov and the college community who became excited about retelling the classic American play through a different kind of lens. Plans were made to help Emeka experiment with the retelling by presenting excerpts of the play in the form of a dramatic reading that would be presented on campus with Brooks in the lead.

The date was set for March 2008, actors were gathered, and the result was a spectacular evening of theater. Campus and community members packed West Lecture Hall. The actor, who maintains close ties with the Oberlin community, received a warm and extended welcome when he stepped on the stage. He and the troupe of professional and student performers then proceeded to illuminate the tragic nightmare within the American dream that crushes Willy Loman with all the grace and fluency at their command.

The audience was rapt; an observer could have heard the proverbial pin drop as the ensemble gave voice to the Arthur Miller characters, a new voice quite unlike anything heard in the theater world before. The applause when it came was thunderous. President Krislov described the evening as "electrifying" and "breathtakingly powerful." Emeka's experiment had succeeded.
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